October 04, 2012
After a recent article in The Rhinoceros Times that focused on the failure to come to pass of dire jail population increases predicted in 2005, Dennis Kimme, president of Kimme & Associates – the firm that conducted the county's jail study – has responded to the criticism of his firm's report, and he has offered several comments as to how Guilford County
ended up with such a large surplus of available jail space.
In an email, Kimme responded to an article in the Thursday, Sept. 13 Rhinoceros Times – "Jail Population Predictions All Wrong." Kimme said that, while the projected increases in the county's jail population didn't come to pass as his firm predicted, there were some mitigating factors to consider, and, he added, some of the county's surplus of jail space is not the result of his firm's findings and recommendations.Guilford County
has just opened a new $100-million jail in downtown Greensboro that has 1,032 inmate beds, and Guilford County
has taken on millions in additional costs to staff that jail and pay off the interest on the 2008 bond referendum that funded construction of the jail. Guilford County
is also expected to pay millions more at some point to address the parking needs of the new jail – most likely with the construction of a parking deck. Guilford County
's supposed need for that new jail was determined largely on the basis of the 2005 report by Kimme & Associates, a jail consulting and design firm based in Champaign, Illinois.
The Rhino Times has contacted the company over the years to get comments on stories, however no one from Kimme & Associates responded to The Rhinoceros Times until Kimme's unsolicited email on Wednesday, Sept. 26.Guilford County
now has a large surplus of jail space, with space for 1,703 inmates and a jail population of about half that number. The need for that jail was largely sold to county voters on the findings of the 2005 report, which called for dramatic increases in the county's inmate population. In actuality, Guilford County
's jail population fell and is now lower than it was in 2005, when the average inmate population was 865.
Kimme called The Rhinoceros Times' article "a very harsh critique of my firm's role in the 2005 jail needs assessment study" and said he wanted to make some points clear.
Kimme said the highest projections of inmate population in that 2005 report – which included a prediction of over 1,000 inmates by 2010 – was the firm's "base projection," not one that took into account what could happen if the county took appropriate measures to reduce the jail population.
"The projection for over 1,000 inmates in 2010 was actually our base projection, not our modified projection that took into account the impact of alternatives to incarceration we recommended," he wrote. The modified projection was the one we used for the study and was actually for 926 in 2010. That number is still higher than what they have experienced but not as dramatically different as 'over 1000.'"
Kimme also said Guilford County
now has more new jail beds than his firm's study called for. The Kimme report recommended 1,620 beds by the year 2025, which is 80 less than the number of beds Guilford County
has in 2012 between its three jails – two jails in Greensboro and one in High Point.
In 2008, when the county was planning the new jail, Commissioner Carolyn Coleman and current Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston said Guilford County
clearly didn't need a giant jail with a capacity of over 1,000 inmates. Coleman, who served on the committee that oversaw the construction of the new jail, said that, to this day, she's baffled as to how the discussion took a sudden turn toward building such a giant jail.
"We were talking about building a 600-bed jail, and then suddenly it was 1,000 beds," Coleman said. "I still don't know where that number came from."
The decline of the jail population can in part be attributed to an expansion of Pretrial Services workers – court employees who manage inmates awaiting trial out of jail – and Kimme pointed out in his email that hiring more pretrial workers was a move recommended in his company's report as a way to help reduce the county's jail population.
"That the population declined was predicted and is quite welcomed by me as a successful result of our study," Kimme wrote.
Kimme also stated in his email that the estimates his firm offered at the time were conservative given Guilford County
's history of rising jail populations. In the decade before that 2005 report, he wrote, the county's jail population had increased by an average of about 5 percent per year.
"Our projection was based on a much more modest 2.5% average annual growth rate," Kimme wrote. "At the time some opinion within the county was offered that we were at risk of understating the need and that our low projection rate was not justified by the historical data. Indeed, during planning discussions some argued that our [year of] 2025 bed target should be more like 2,100 beds than the 1,620 beds we did recommend."
According to Kimme, after the 2005 report came out, national trends also changed in a way that virtually no one saw coming.
"National average incarceration rates for county jails have declined in the last 3 years," Kimme wrote in his email.
He called this decrease "an unpredicted phenomenon" because, over the previous 25 years, incarceration rates had increased in every year but one.
Kimme said he and other jail consultants believed the economic downturn four years ago had a lot to do with the drop: He said financial constraints on local governments across the country have led to a reduction of police forces, and fewer police officers result in fewer arrests. He said that, in turn, fewer arrests resulted in fewer people being put into the jails.
One key shortcoming of the study, in hindsight, is that it seems to have severely underestimated the effect that alternative programs could have in reducing Guilford County
's jail population. The Kimme report did say that some strategies could be employed, but the report stated that in the opinion of the Kimme consultants those efforts would not reduce the jail population enough for the county to avoid building a new jail.
Kimme stated in his email that, at the time his firm studied the Guilford County
jail system's inmate population, 51 percent of those in jail were there because they had failed to adhere successfully to alternative programs.
Kimme stated in his email that, because of the high cost of building jails and the poor state of finances, local governments have been a lot more interested in pursuing alternatives than before.
Ironically, after the May 2008 jail bond referendum passed and the county began planning the new jail, Guilford County
officials and representatives of the county's court system began to meet with justice system officials, and the two groups took a very active role in trying to reduce the jail population by fast-tracking deadwood cases that had been clogging up the jails, hiring more court workers to try cases faster, and implementing a house arrest system. They also expanded the mental health courts and drug courts to handle non-violent cases that have more to do with substance abuse and mental illness than with dangerous criminal tendencies....continued on page 2